lib·​er·​al·​ism ˈli-b(ə-)rə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce liberalism (audio)
: the quality or state of being liberal
often capitalized : a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity
: a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard (see gold standard sense 1)
: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy (see autonomy sense 2) of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties
specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (such as those involving race, gender, or class)
capitalized : the principles and policies of a Liberal (see liberal entry 1 sense 6b) party
liberalist noun or adjective
liberalistic adjective

Example Sentences

liberalism had always claimed to stand for the greatest social good
Recent Examples on the Web Norrie denied his report was an attack on liberalism and another shot in the culture wars. Ian Leonard, Fox News, 17 Jan. 2023 Both advocated what now looks like a pompous and naive consensus liberalism, but neither categorized politics outside the mainstream as fascist. D.g. Hart, WSJ, 20 Nov. 2022 This potent intergenerational debate drama about liberalism in academia represents the serious-minded, socially engaged side of Shakman’s sensibility. Charles Mcnulty, Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2022 Modern liberalism’s advancement of efficiency and corporate interests, under the intellectual guise of human flourishing, have contributed to this problem. WSJ, 1 Nov. 2022 Yet these deals didn’t dilute his authority as liberalism’s voice. David Greenberg, Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2023 That, Röpke said, was why liberalism rejected the oppression of people because of their race or religion. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 2 Feb. 2023 From Adam Smith to Isaiah Berlin, believers in liberalism brought the author out of his early socialism to disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution — and on to an abiding belief in democracy’s role in protecting freedom. Los Angeles Times, 29 Dec. 2022 His great novels are dramas of dissent, of conscience, but without liberalism. Ben Lerner, The New York Review of Books, 29 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'liberalism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


see liberal entry 1

First Known Use

1816, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of liberalism was in 1816

Dictionary Entries Near liberalism

Cite this Entry

“Liberalism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


lib·​er·​al·​ism ˈlib(-ə)-rə-ˌliz-əm How to pronounce liberalism (audio)
: a political belief stressing progress, the essential goodness of humankind, and individual freedom

More from Merriam-Webster on liberalism

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